Week fourteen is upon us and the playoff races in both conferences are starting to heat up. While playoff positioning is beginning to come into focus, the next three weeks in the NFL regular season will become crucial for several teams.
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Oakland Raiders vs Kansas City Chiefs (-4 points)
This AFC West showdown has turned out to be one of the most critical games on the docket as it features two teams heading in polar opposite directions. Both the Raiders and Chiefs are sporting 6-6 records however Oakland are four point dogs and come in riding the momentum, and will now look to sweep the season series against KC.
The Raiders are ravaged by injuries and suspension at the receiver position, however after winning its last two games they have the opportunity to deal a blow to their hated rivals. Kansas City seemed to be in cruise control in the AFC West after storming out to a 6-2 record. Sadly for Chiefs fans, they’ve rattled off four straight losses and are now a team in disarray. There’s already been plenty of chatter as for the future of quarterback Alex Smith and rookie backup Patrick Mahomes.
Oakland are still without Michael Crabtree who will be serving his second straight game to suspension and there’s still uncertainty around the status of fellow wideout Amari Cooper, who’s been battling injuries all season.
The first meeting in Oakland back in October resulted in a breathtaking 31-30 finale that resulted in the Raiders pulling off a last second touchdown and earning the home win. The Chiefs will now look to maintain serve and win on their home turf. Alex Smith and co have lost four straight games and are hanging on by a thread to the final wildcard spot entering this week’s play.
Minnesota Vikings (-2.5 points) vs Carolina Panthers
Sunday afternoon will see the top seed Minnesota Vikings head to Carolina to take on the Panthers in the NFC game of the week. The Vikings have been one of the biggest surprises of the season and at 10-2, remain the top seed in the conference (tied with Philadelphia).
The host Carolina Panthers come into action with a formidable 8-4 record which is currently holding down a wild card spot, however a win on Sunday will tie them with the New Orleans Saints for the division lead. The Panthers had been playing well of late having won four straight games before suffering a 31-21 defeat to the Saints last week.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has taken another step in the maturation process and is becoming more responsible and prudent with passing the football while not sacrificing his ability to move the ball on the ground. The former Auburn star has 16 touchdowns through the air to go with his 515 yards rushing and 5 majors on the ground.
The Minnesota Vikings are tied with the Philadelphia Eagles with a league best 10-2 record and have virtually wrapped up the North division courtesy of their eight straight wins. Quarterback Case Keenum has been the biggest surprise of the year this season and has forced himself into the MVP conversation. Keenum has started 10 of 11 games this year for the Vikes and has amassed 16 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions. Much like his quarterback, wideout Adam Thielen has also been a beast for the first place Vikings as he’s already recorded a ‘good’ season’s worth of numbers in just three quarters of a season. Thielen has hauled in 74 receptions for 1056 yards and three touchdowns and has become a more trusted target for Keenum than Stefon Diggs.
This game will feature two of the best scoring defenses in the league so the totals line of 40.5 is an interesting option. Minnesota has the fewest points allowed in the NFC at 204 points and trails only Jacksonville as the lowest mark.
Philadelphia Eagles vs Los Angeles Rams (-1.5 points)
The second monumental NFC clash will showcase the 10-2 Eagles heading west to take on the 9-3 NFC West leading Rams in a battle of two of the best teams top to bottom in the league. The 1.5 point line is about as close to a pick ‘em as one could expect given the quality of play.
The storylines in this game are endless as not only will this NFC power battle go a long way in determining home field advantage in the playoffs, but it will also showcase the top two draft picks from last years draft in quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. Wentz has followed up a solid rookie season with a much improved sophomore season, but Goff on the other hand has dazzled in his second season. The former first overall pick struggled mightily to stay on the feel last year and completely seemed out of sorts with the offense. This season is a completely different story as Goff has thrown for 20 touchdowns to only 6 interceptions with an impressive 98.6 passer rating.
The similarities don’t stop at the quarterback position as the rushing attacks are potent and lethal. Newly acquired Jay Ajayi is averaging 7.9 yards per rush since joining Philly and has formed quite the two headed attack along with LeGarrette Blount. On the Rams’ side, Todd Gurley has become one of the elite tailbacks in the league. Gurley has gained the third most rushing yards in the league (939) and tallied another 563 yards through the air with a combined 11 touchdowns.
Philadelphia will certainly be looking to avenge a tough loss suffered last week at Seattle on Sunday night 24-10. Pryor to the loss last week the Eagles had quite the impressive eight game win streak going. The Rams on the other hand kept their lead atop the NFC West with a dominant 32-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals.